A friend of mine has been trying to talk me into getting T-Mobile for almost two years now. I never saw the point, as with my employer discount AT&T was no more expensive, and I did not wish to deal with the hassle of switching providers. Even with the lack of contracts, I wasn’t sold. Why would I switch? I was out of contract, was grandfathered into unlimited LTE, and had a Nexus 5, no chance of re-signing a contract to get a subsidized device.
However, all of this changed when T-Mobile announced that they would now be providing free international SMS and data roaming, as well as very cheap roaming calls. I decided to at least get the service for a month. With the lack of a contract, $70 wouldn’t break me. I would use the service during my trip and then cancel. Little did I know that after this trip, I was going to cancel my AT&T service and stick with the carrier that changed the way I travel.
The free international roaming SMS and data, as well as cheap rates on calls, is a huge deal for me. I spend around 3-4 months out of the year in Europe and occasionally Asia. I usually end up being out of touch with America while on the go, as I use local prepaid cards. Data is limited, as well as expensive. More importantly, I am unable to cheaply communicate with work and friends back in the United States as roaming is expensive, and communicating with one of my European numbers is unreasonable for people in the United States (for example one international SMS from AT&T is 50¢).
As an experiment, I decided to buy a Moto G and activate a T-Mobile number for my most recent trip to Europe. During my trip, I would be staying in Ukraine and Germany for extended periods of time, while also traveling to various countries in between them. This provided me with a great opportunity to put T-Mobile’s roaming features to the test. When entering a new country, I got a message from T-Mobile reminding me of my free data and SMS, as well as letting me know that a minute of calling would cost me 20¢. As I was in countries covered by Simple Choice Global Roaming, I assume that this would change if I entered a country not covered, and instead I would receive the local rate. Pretty standard for any operator, but still very convenient.
During my layover in Düsseldorf, Germany, I was able to pass time talking with friends back home as well as browsing the internet. Yes, the data is EDGE speed (despite being on Telekom Deutschland’s HSPA+ network), but when combined with Opera Mini (highly suggested for doing any EDGE speed browsing by the way), the loading speed of most websites was not much worse than on 3G with Safari or Chrome. Another interesting note: latency on Telekom’s network was consistent with HSPA+ networks rather than EDGE networks, making it a rather smooth experience regardless of the throughput cap.
While in Ukraine, I only had access to EDGE networks, as most operators do not have 3G networks in the country. When I landed in Kiev, I was able to let my loved ones back home know that I had arrived safely, as well as make plans for the evening, using Skype and Google Hangouts, with my friends in Kiev, all while still in the taxi on the way to my condo. I even tried doing voice calling via Skype with a friend back in the United States, and it was no worse than using a PC connected to a high speed line. While it was great that I was able to keep in touch with work while abroad, I was sadly able to keep in touch with work while abroad. Anything happened with our servers or website, they could get in touch with me instantaneously. And I would have to stop whatever I was doing and get to a PC. Thanks T-Mobile! (Joking!)
I used Google Play Music constantly throughout my trip, and most of the time it played skip-free. Though, as with any large city, I could have been experiencing interference from buildings and not an issue with the network during the times that it failed to work properly. I did notice, however, that every once in a while an SMS would fail to send, or sometimes it would send even though failing was shown (this could be a downfall of Hangouts SMS). Instagram, Twitter, and Foursquare all worked very well. I was able to use Google Maps to plan my routes with local transit without many issues. It even told me the subway schedule (every 1 minute, not helpful but still better than nothing).
Now let me mention a little app that this free data let me use. A little app that will forever change the way I travel. Google Translate. Yes, Google Translate. Wherever I am, I can communicate. In Munich, there were times that not only my German failed me, but the person I was talking to, or asking directions, could not explain themselves in English. I let Google Translate listen to them, or me on some occasions, and it translated like a champ. No more going “choo choo” to find the train station, or even going “moo?” asking whether a dish is made from beef!
Due to the lack of a local phone number (or in fact anyone to call locally), I used Skype extensively while in Munich. The call quality was more than adequate most of the time, although there were moments of subpar quality, but I suspect that was caused by the other end using a laptop which was closed in a docking station, and all subpar calls were with this person. At times the Skype app crashed, the cause was most likely due to the application and not the failure of the network (I include this to be thorough).
Network switching happened instantaneously if I happened to go into a dead zone for the network I was currently using. Although with this came a caveat: not all local networks were partnered with T-Mobile, so there were dead zones during which other non-partner providers received service. An interesting thing I noticed: even during heavy network loads (such as New Year’s at midnight) my calls went through all the time, even if the people around me with the same network provider were unable to make or receive calls.
During most of my travels throughout the world since the advent of cell phones and 3G tablets, I wondered who were all of these travel apps (translators, city guides, attraction locators) for? I always assumed it was only for the people who could afford the insane roaming rates, or had an unlocked device and used a local SIM card (like I did in Kiev, although most of these apps were useless to me then as I am a native Kievan). And now thanks to this move by T-Mobile, these applications and services make sense. Because of this, I even discovered places I didn’t know about, thanks to access to Field Trip (a great application by the way, it notifies you when something of interest is nearby).
I am aware of how much all of this sounds like a sales pitch, paid for by T-Mobile. Trust me, it isn’t. After my experience using this service, I am a believer. I am convinced. The verdict: If you travel abroad, even once a year, this is worth switching to T-Mobile for. If you are like me and spend around 3-4 months abroad every year, and do not have a corporate expense account to cover roaming fees, then it is more than worth it. It is almost a must. Trust me, this will change your traveling experience. Or maybe, like it did for me, it will even change the way you travel! In fact, I’m using this for a trip through Asia, and I plan to detail those experiences soon, too.